Dairy is any product made from the milk of a cow, goat, sheep and there are now companies using camel milk. The milk is used to make cheese, yogurt and butter and is consumed the world over in various forms. It is a staple in many people's lives from a small drop of milk in a cup of tea to large cheese boards. But the question is, is it really a food we should be consuming?
Consider this fact, we are the only species on the planet that consumes any other animals milk and the only species that drinks any milk into adulthood. Milk from any species is designed to feed the offspring of that species, it is a rich source of nutrients that give the baby everything it needs in the early stages of life.
Would ancestral man have drank it?
Evidence suggests that humans began cattle herding around 9000 years ago, a progression of the agricultural revolution that started around 10,000 - 12,000 years ago, so dairy certainly wasn't on the menu from an evolutionary perspective of 200,000 of modern man. Dairy herding has been traced to Turkey where it then spread through to northern europe.
So why can dairy be problematic?
For some people an intolerance to Lactose (A form of sugar) or Casein (A form of protein) can promote undesirable effects, bloating, diarrhea, cramping and also skin issues like acne. Casein is also linked to leaky gut, where the intestinal lining is bypassed and can lead to autoimmune responses.similar to the effects of gluten and grain consumption. Milk is also highly insulinogenic so should be a consideration from a weight control perspective.
Why is it only a problem for some people?
Everyone is born with the ability to process lactose, as a baby we produce the enzyme lactase that breaks down lactose. Many people lose this ability after weaning however some of us have developed the ability to produce lactase into adulthood. This very recent genetic change is more widespread in european countries with around 65% - 85% of europeans being tolerant and can be attributed to their heritage, it is much less worldwide.
Are there benefits to dairy consumption?
Dairy can be a good source of fat, protein, calcium, potassium and vitamin-D. Although all these things can be found in other foods. It can be helpful in bone growth particularly during childhood and adolescence when bone mass is being built. There is an association with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
How do I know if it's for me?
Many people consume dairy and think they are not getting any issues. They carry on thinking that the bloating and stomach cramps are just part of life and have no connection to what they eat. My recommendation is that you cut out all sources of dairy for at least three weeks. You may not notice any changes at first however it will be apparent when you reintroduce it to your diet. If you do see any negative effects then it would be a wise decision to a least limit your intake if not totally remove dairy from your diet.
If however if you don't see any negative effects then you could consider it in your daily diet, it can give you lots of variations in recipes and add some interesting flavour to our meals. If you do include dairy then as always go for the best quality you can get hold of. A raw organic product would be the best option, however whatever you choose go full fat, semi and skimmed are nutritionally void in comparison.
In summary dairy is not a natural food for humans, and is certainly not essential, however for some a small genetic change has given them the ability to consume it without any negative effects. As with all your lifestyle changes you should take it as a self experiment. Avoid it for a least three weeks and see if you notice any issue when you reintroduce it, if you do then perhaps dairy should be avoided long term. If not then it can be a welcome addition to your diet.